Sun Life and Cossette Media’s effective support of local journalism

As part of a brand campaign early last year, Sun Life became the first marketer in North America to employ a new tool to correct one of the biggest problems in digital advertising—which in turn contributes to one of the biggest problems in society itself.

Working with its media agency Cossette Media, Sun Life used San Jose-based NOBL for part of the ad buy. NOBL uses technology to prevent programmatic ad dollars flowing to publishers and content producers that spread hate, extremism and disinformation.

While there might be a moral impetus for brands and their media agencies to do more to ensure their ad spend is not funding toxic content, NOBL says more ads on quality content is also good for business, with its campaigns delivering up to twice the click-through rates at about one-third the cost. The company describes its mission as “Bring advertising back to credible content. Get advertisers better results. Create a safer, healthier internet.”

(The company’s chief marketing officer is Matt Rivitz, a co-founder of Sleeping Giants along with Nandini Jammi, who has since gone on to launch Check My Ads.)

There has been growing interest and awareness over the last couple of years about the importance of credible information and content around big issues like the environment, equity, and even Covid said Brian Cuddy, Cossette’s vice-president of digital solutions and responsible media. And there’s a better understanding that a healthy media ecosystem means advertising on quality content, such as local journalism, rather than misinformation and other toxic content.

Cossette started looking at NOBL around the time of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott of Facebook in the summer of 2020 said Cuddy, who is also a key figure in the CMDC’s Canadian Media Manifesto—which was created to get more Canadian advertisers spending money with local media.

“We’re always trying to find new avenues for our advertisers,” he said. Cossette has lots of connections to premium publishers for direct buys, but for the long-tail campaigns and programmatic buys, was interested in NOBL’s claim that it could enable programmatic campaigns with highly targeted advertising alongside high quality long-tail content.

NOBL uses AI technology to analyze content using more than 30 different indicators, from the presence of opinionated or subjective speech to clickbait headlines.

When Cossette started to experiment with NOBL they discovered that the technology was more likely to identify local news outlets as high-quality content.

Supporting local events and communities is part of the Sun Life brand, and its leadership is willing to consider innovative new ideas like NOBL, said Cuddy. “They were willing to participate in something we were building.”

It wasn’t plug-and-play for the DSP, and Cossette had to plug in the APIs, but Sun Life was on board. “It was pretty straightforward… as a way to get more quality content at a programmatic scale,” said Cuddy.

The assumption behind the value of local news and high-quality content is that the consumer has greater trust of not only the content, but also the advertising that surrounds it, said Cuddy. The higher trust that local news sites have with their readers translates into benefits for the brands that advertise and support their journalism.

“We saw that in terms of your standard digital media metrics from a response perspective,” he said. “We were able to generate higher rates of engagement through that filtering technology and a lower cost for that engagement… Even though the CPM we would pay to the publisher was high, we were willing to pay that because there was a higher quality and higher responses.”

Specifically, Cossette saw a 104% increase in click-through rates; a 37% decrease in the cost-per-click rate; and a 29% decrease in the cost-per-engagement rate, metrics very close to those claimed by the NOBL. With that first successful campaign under its belt, Cossette has been talking about the tool to other clients that have expressed an interest in using it for their campaigns.

“Consumers are caring more and more about what brands say and what content brands support with their ad dollars,” said NOBL founder and CEO Cedar Milazzo. “We’re thrilled to partner with Cossette Media on our mission to bring advertising back to credible content while helping create a safer, healthier internet. We’re excited. This is just the beginning.”


David Brown